Branagh Not Ducking His Responsibilities After Presidential Role

News Letter: the Pride of Northern Ireland , 28 September 2005

Belfast actor Kenneth Branagh has just played a US president and now he's back in the UK, sorting out a show for London's West End.

Home Box Office movie "Warm Springs" stars Branagh as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was left a paraplegic from polio in 1921 at the age of 39.

The film follows Roosevelt's story from before he contracted polio, through the initial phases of his illness, subsequent despair, and eventual optimism. Roosevelt found hope after hearing about a young polio victim who learned to walk again after swimming in the waters of health spa Warm Springs near Atlanta, in the backwoods of rural Georgia. The Emmy-nominated iconic role of Roosevelt was a major and high-profile one for Kenneth Branagh, who has also recently been directing "As You Like It", his fifth Shakespearian adaptation for the screen.

But now his challenge is more of a contemporary comedic one. The Ulsterman is working on "Ducktastic", with The Right Size comedy duo. Sean Foley and Hamish McColl are the same actors whom he also directed in sell-out success "The Play What I Wrote", loosely based around the life stories of Morecambe and Wise.

"I had one of the best creative times of my life working on "The Play What I Wrote" and they kept saying there was another show.

"And then one dark afternoon last December we met in London and they gave me not the most extensive outline." Despite the lack of detail, the show's budget was set at 800,000. The outcome is said to be a spoof on conjuring, loosely based around the Las Vegas act of Siegfried and Roy, but more like a tribute to British comedy: Christophe Ursula Sassoon is in the last chance saloon of his career - all his hopes for a return to Las Vegas ride on "Ducktastic". Daphne the Duck is the magic bird who's set to save them all.

Roy de la Rue, Roy Street, a pet shop owner from Portsmouth, is on hand to help Sassoon. That's the basic plot.

Now it's up to the team to make it funny, but that is a mild challenge compared with Branagh's work on "Warm Springs".

One of the most difficult tasks for the actor was the physical effort needed to play FDR, who went on to run four terms as US president.

"He didn't have the use of abdominal muscles or lateral muscles, and so even when he was in leg braces, which allowed him to stand, he still needed either the crutches, or, as he then developed later in his life, a way of walking for short periods where he could hold onto the arm of his son, usually, and use a cane.

"But people often said that he perspired heavily, the physical effort of doing this was enormously difficult; he did develop very powerful upper body and shoulders. There's a story about Jack Dempsey, the boxer, saying that he'd never seen more developed shoulders than on FDR."

"Ducktastic" opens at London's Albery Theatre on October 11.

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